Such A Sad Song! TARP Banks Are Whining About Pre-Payment Penalties

Wait, wait, I can hardly read these sad statements through my tears - of laughter! This, from the people who brought us this entire house of cards that just collapsed? The people whose lobbyists have stacked the financial deck against people like us with late fees, pre-payment penalties and unregulated interest rates are actually telling us IT ISN'T FAIR?

WASHINGTON -- The banking industry is aggressively lobbying the Treasury Department to make it less costly for financial institutions to get out of the Troubled Asset Relief Program.

The move could prove controversial for the banking industry, which is busy deflecting criticism about higher fees it is charging consumers for credit cards and other products and services.

At issue are "warrants" the government received when it bought preferred stock in roughly 500 banks over the past six months as part of TARP. The warrants allow the government to buy common stock in the banks at a later date so taxpayers can receive more of a return on their investment when the banking industry recovers.

Many banks want to return their TARP money and, as part of that effort, want to expunge the warrants. To do that, banks must either buy them back from the government or allow the Treasury to sell them to private investors.

Today, most of the warrants are essentially worthless, because their exercise price is higher than where most banks' stocks are trading. But the government believes the warrants still have value, since they give the Treasury the right to buy common stock at a set price for 10 years.

Bankers say it is unfair to charge what amounts to a "prepayment penalty," which makes it additionally onerous to escape TARP. Bank representatives say the cost of buying back the warrants could be equivalent to paying 60% annual interest on short-term loans. That, they argue, would exacerbate banks' existing problems.

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